The Price of Time on the Île Saint-Germain
Translation by Jennie Feldman
The stretching shadows of passers-by
Stake out cosmic time across the lawn
And each blade of grass has cast its own
That shifts like a needle, minutely.
But from the crest of the low ridge none
Of this stir can be seen. A great tree
Stands by itself, tinted with autumn,
Centred pensively in the vast dial.
Pulverized light sifts onto the hill:
As the sun’s pallor begins to sink
A triumphal halo mists Meudon
And a young man turns and says: ‘Pardon
Monsieur, can you spare two or three francs?’
A battered case in his other hand
He waits. I pay up. Another franc.
He’ll go and smoke it, no doubt, or drink.
From the Observatoire we must seem,
In the saffron glow, like men of old
About to clinch a pact or a scheme.
Indeed, by way of exchange I call
After him: ‘Can you tell me the time?’
Look: bare wrist – his gesture laconic –
But the shadow oblique on the lawn
Gave the hour (correct, melancholic).
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